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Weekend festivals offer something from four small towns - great hosts

Thousands of people descended on four small Minnesota towns Labor Day weekend to bid farewell to summer and the summer festival season.

Nevis' 5th annual Uff Da days was an uproarious salute to all things Scandinavian - minus the lutefisk, unless it was concealed in the smoked bratwurst.

Event organizers said they had no idea how many people turned out Saturday - hundreds, perhaps a thousand - but vowed to plan the event next year over the Labor Day holiday. The festival is traditionally scheduled for the last weekend in August, which fell on Labor Day this year.

They thanked the holiday for the added turnout. The hot weather probably boosted attendance.

Nimrod hosted an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people, an amazing weekend feat for a town of 75.

Twenty softball teams came to town, along with 16 teams that played in the mud volleyball tournament.

Two races, a 5K and a 10K, attracted dozens more.

Nimrod, from end to end, was a giant campground with tents, trailers and RVs spending the weekend. When the park near the Crow Wing River overflowed, campers perched on roadside ditches.

Ruth Stahl has smoked brats for 25 of the last 30 Jubilee Days. She started Saturday morning well before 9 a.m. That was about the same time some softball teams started quaffing cold beers.

Stahl said small-town hospitality, physical endeavors and beer helps attract crowds each year.

Calvin Redetzke, a volunteer firefighter from Sebeka, spent an hour hosing down the volleyball courts before the tournament began Saturday morning, using the fire truck and hose.

Mud up to his knees, he carefully tested the muck level to make sure it was deep enough.

"I make sure they've got a mess," he said, grinning. "You throw your clothes away when you're done playing in this tournament."

In Snellman, locals poked fun at their own tiny town, telling visitors that certain events were "on the other side of town," which meant across the street.

Snellman Days featured a mayoral election open to anyone who submitted a ballot, watermelon-eating contest and other activities throughout the day Saturday.

Menahga hosted almost 100 people at a Mud Run, an event that attracted dozens of 4-wheel-drive trucks rumbling and teetering precariously along a mud sprint track.

A Staples man suffered minor injuries in a dramatic rollover accident when his Jeep CJ-7 tipped over, then rolled end over end Saturday afternoon.

Back in Nevis, horseshoes attracted almost two dozen players to test their prowess.

And the brats were flying off Pat Zallar's grill as fast as he and other volunteers could smoke them. "This is a fantastic turnout," he said.

But despite being thrilled by the crowds, Nevis organizers were disappointed when a truck carrying the riding elephant and ponies broke down in Grand Forks.

"When it's a holiday weekend, you're probably not going to find parts for your truck," said Jinx Zajaczkowski, one of the event organizers. "It was a huge, huge disappointment" especially when organizers didn't offer the annual petting zoo.

It didn't matter. Kids had numerous activities to keep themselves busy. Games, a treasure hunt, an ice cream eating contest, an egg toss and other events kept little ones occupied. A climbing wall was the biggest attraction as kids of all ages tested their leg muscles - and tolerance for heights.

And when the Scandinavian-themed play about Ole and Lena's divorce was over, the parade had finished and all the beer was all consumed, organizers started the clean-up and counted their blessings. And their money.

Much of Nevis' profits will be donated through a charity set up in memory of original founder Gloria Van Nyhuis. Some will go to improvements to the Nevis facilities that host the event.

The remainder will be banked for start-up costs for next year's festival.

Uff da!